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Israel grants exclusive oil-drilling rights in occupied Golan to US company

The first article by Michael Kelley, Business Insider is followed by a more detailed one from Daniel Graeber,

Map showing Golan Heights to north of Lake Galilee. Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War and, under its military administration, established Israeli settlements there. It annexed the area by passing the Golan Heights Law in 1981. The United Nations Security Council condemned this act in UN Resolution 497, which said that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

Israel Grants First Golan Heights Oil Drilling License To Powerful US Company

By Michael Kelley, Business Insider
February 22, 2013

Israel has granted a U.S. company the first license to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.

A local subsidiary of the New York-listed company Genie Energy — which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney and whose shareholders include Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch — will now have exclusive rights to a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights.

That geographic location will likely prove controversial. Israel seized the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. Its administration of the area — which is not recognized by international law — has been mostly peaceful until the Syrian civil war broke out 23 months ago.

“This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights,” Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT. “The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem.”

There are about 20,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan Heights.

Earlier this month we reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles from Golan into Syria to secure the 47-mile border against the threat of Islamic radicals in the area.

The move would overtake the UN Disengagement Observer Force Zone that was established in 1973 to end the Yom Kippur War and to provide a buffer zone between the two countries.

Reed notes that recent natural gas finds off Israel’s coast in the Mediterranean have made Israel’s offshore gas reserve is one of the largest of its kind in the world and will make the Jewish state a significant energy exporter in its region.

Cheney-Linked Company to Drill in Occupied Golan Heights

By Daniel J. Graeber,
February 24, 2013

The Israeli government awarded a local subsidiary of U.S.-based Genie Energy the rights to explore for oil and natural gas in about 150 square miles of the southern section of the Golan Heights. The United Nations last year extended the mandate for the region’s U.N. Disengagement Observer Force mission, one of the oldest peacekeeping missions, for another six months. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said keeping Blue Helmets stationed in the area was essential to peace given the potential for conflict spilling out of the Syrian civil war. Genie Energy said there may be a significant amount of oil and natural gas in the license area. When Israel set its sights on offshore natural gas, Hezbollah warned that Israel shouldn’t encroach on Lebanese territory. If recent concerns about Hezbollah’s influence are any indication, the Shiite resistance movement may focus its guns onshore amid expanding Israeli energy interests. With former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney serving as an adviser to Genie, however, the implications may go beyond immediate worries over Hezbollah.

Genie Energy said there may be “significant quantities” of natural resources in the region. The license area encompasses about 150 square miles of the southern portion of the Golan Heights, considered territory occupied by the Israeli military.

“Genie Energy intends to conduct an exploration program to further investigate the size and quality of the resource in the new license area,” the company explained in a statement.

Last year, Israeli Energy Minister Uzi Landau said the government was looking to open the territory up for oil and natural gas exploration. Israel claims the territory as its own after capturing the region in a 1967 war with Syria. In November, UNDOF peacekeepers monitoring the 1973 cease-fire between Israel and Syria came under fire near Damascus during a troop rotation. U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned the Syrian civil war could spillover the borders given the latest escalation of violence. Last month, the United Nations expressed further concern amid reports that Israeli planes flew over the region to conduct an air strike on Hezbollah territory in southern Lebanon.

Landau’s comments last year came amid optimism about natural gas reserves located off Israel’s coast. The Tamar natural gas field is said to hold as much as 8.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Leviathan field may hold nearly twice that, with an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Located more than 50 miles off the Israeli coast in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon contends some of that natural gas may lie in its territorial waters. Two years ago, Hezbollah warned that it wouldn’t tolerate any company working offshore where sovereignty is uncertain.

“The Israeli enemy cannot drill a single meter in these waters to search for gas and oil if the zone is disputed,” it warned.

Hezbollah claimed victory in a 2006 war with Israel. Since then, Hezbollah has come under fire for ties to a terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Last week, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said he was concerned the Lebanese government was ceding military control over the southern borders to the Shiite movement, which holds Cabinet-level positions in the Lebanese government.

Israel has faced increasing isolation for its settlement activity in the West Bank and for violating the border of its northern neighbors. A 1993 foreign policy doctrine from Israel’s ally Washington, meanwhile, linked U.S. national security interests as they relate to oil and natural gas tacitly to Israel’s security.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel and to maintaining the qualitative edge that is critical to Israel’s security,” it read.

That document was drafted with the help of then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. He’s serving as an adviser to Genie as it plans work in an area encompassing about 30 percent of the Golan Heights. U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has plans to visit Israel next month. Cheney expressed recent concern that the Middle East was “as dangerous now as it has ever been” under Obama’s leadership. With Cheney working the back channels, that “qualitative edge” may manifest itself in drilling operations in the occupied Golan Heights, a powder keg for potentially broad-based war in the Middle East.

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